Almost a week into August, it may be a safe to assume Buffalo Sabres fans are more worried about the status of prized restricted free agent Tyler Ennis than any impending collective bargaining squabbles.
Ennis was arguably the Sabres’ best offensive player after returning from a second ankle injury last season. His 29 points in 30 games after his switch to center put him in the drivers seat to become the Sabres’ hallowed “number one center.” But as it stands right now, Ennis cannot report for training camp in a few weeks.
There is no question of whether Darcy Regier wants to sign Ennis, the question is how much will he have to sign him for?
The market has been varied this summer for RFAs, and it may be the reason why Ennis and the Sabres haven’t come to terms yet.
For example, former third overall draft pick Matt Duchene, a center for the Colorado Avalanche, signed a two year, $7 million deal at the beginning of the summer. Considering his talent and his production level thus far, that was seen as a hometown discount by many.
Beyond that, no major restricted free agent has signed, leaving the market in a state of flux. The Winnipeg Jets‘ Evander Kane, the Montreal Canadiens‘ P.K. Subban, the Dallas Stars’ Jamie Benn, and Colorado’s Ryan O’Reilly all remain unsigned.
So what will Ennis agree to?
The likely contract will be two or three years and be worth somewhere in the $3 million to $3.25 million range. As devastating as his two ankle injuries were last season to the Sabres’ playoff hopes, they may have been great for their pocketbooks.
If Ennis would have played 10 or 15 more games at the pace he ended the season at, his price tag may have gone through the roof, leaving Regier with little choice but to pay him at least above the $3.5 million per year Duchene received from Colorado.
With how unstoppable the line of Ennis-Drew Stafford–Marcus Foligno was at the end of last season, it’s not a shock to anyone to think that Ennis can put up north of 70 points this season. With that kind of production potential, having Ennis cheaper than Duchene will be a steal for Regier.
Let’s hope they can figure it out soon so Sabres fans can go back to worrying about the CBA like everyone else.